Sunday 30 December 2018

The Gambia: Day 5: Tendaba - Savannah Dry

11th December:

I arose after a fitful night’s sleep but at least I had not lost a pint of blood during the course of it.  It was still dark outside with a myriad of stars still glinting in the heavens but before too long I was watching the first rays of Sol caress the sky over a mirror calm Gambia River with no sound other than the thrum of insects and a very keen village cockerel.

Two Pink-backed Pelicans drifted into view like mini icebergs and Yellow-billed Kites and a solitary Hamerkop were descending to check out the tide line for breakfast morsels.  Breakfast was taken overlooking the beach. It was bread with jam or cold baked beans for most of us but I only wish I had had the camera ready for Shawn’s face as he popped in a big fork of very fishy noodles... scarred for life I reckon.

immature Yellow-billed Kite

A small lithe falcon dashed along the beach in a Hobby like fashion. I only just got my bins on it but it looked two tone with dark uppers and plain orangey underneath. We all got up to look but it did not reappear until I was giving the beach a quick final look as we headed out for the day when a final pass confirmed that it was indeed an African Hobby.

We only travelled a short way up the road and bumped back off to view a lagoon known as Terminal One. It was actually quite pleasingly fresh and we were greeted by two Double Spurred Francolins exploding from the grasses while other called around us.  

The shallow water held a small group of Pink-backed Pelicans along with Grey Plover, Black-winged Stilts, Spur Winged and Wattled Lapwings, three Common and a Wood Sandpiper. Two female Montagu’s Harriers were floating around and a distant Darter was seen over the trees.  Both parrots were in the trees and Aby Rollers fly catched from the tree tops in flashes of turquoise and Royal blue with tail streamers trailing behind them. 

Pink-backed Pelicans

Aby Roller
Wattled Lapwing
Solomon picked up our first, albeit, distant Bronze-tailed Starlings while a female Subalpine Warbler sat in the sunshine until a chunky dark female Red-chested Sunbird pushed it off.

As we neared the bus Ali beckoned us over as there was a Helmeted Guineafowl sitting in the middle of the road a couple of hundred yards down!  This is a difficult bird to catch up with in the Gambia and no sooner had I got the scope on this speckled ovoid than it ran to the left – only to be followed by at least eight more who ran and half flew across the road. It is funny how such a familiar bird can bring such joy.

Onwards but I did not give us time to settle on the bus as I found a couple of luminous Bruce’s Green Pigeons perched up in a tree top. It proved to be a most productive little stop with at least six of these, olive, sulphur and purple pot-bellied pigeons clambering around the trees.  A party of social Yellow-billed Shrikes surveyed the scene from the highest tree and our first proper view of a Bearded Barbet was much appreciated. What a curious looking bird. Beautiful Sunbirds flicked around and squeaked and a Gonolek sang from deep cover.

Bruce’s Green Pigeon

Bruce’s Green Pigeon - Paul French

Yellow-billed Shrikes

Bearded Barbet and a Bruce's that I have only just noticed!

Vinaceous Dove

The rest of the morning was spent wandering around the pastoral land and scrub near the villages of Wurokong and Batteling.

Some Patas Monkeys staring at us in a supercilious manner got things going nicely and no sooner had we ventured beyond the last dwellings did we find eight Yellow-billed Oxpeckers doing what they do best.  

Patas Monkeys
Yellow-billed Oxpeckers
Yellow-billed Oxpeckers

Yellow-billed Oxpeckers

Yellow-billed Oxpeckers

I have to admit that seeing these was one of the highlights of the trip for me.  A bit like the spotty Guineafowl and double headed Hamerkop, the colourful ‘cage and aviary’ finches, the dry savannah songs of the incessant doves, weaver nests dangling from the palms, monkeys in tree tops and blue eyed mudskippers; they all brought back childhood memories of wildlife parks and zoos, pet shops (where you could buy anything...), my nature books and David Attenborough introducing us to Life on Earth.

Lesser Blue Eared Glossy Starlings joined the Glossy ranks with Greater BEGS and flouncing Long-tails adding to the general shininess of the world around us.

Lesser Blue Eared Glossy Starling

Lesser Blue Eared Glossy Starling

Long-tailed Glossy Starlings

Long-tailed Glossy Starlings

Grasshopper Buzzards watched the ground from the edge of baobabs and up above House Martins were noted with the Red-chested Swallows and Palm Swifts while keen ears picked up a couple of Yellow Wagtails and Tree Pipits.   

Grasshopper Buzzard

Grasshopper Buzzard

Grasshopper Buzzard

Woodchats and Whinchats were dotted about – the former in interestingly pallid winter plumage, a mere ghosting of the rich summer colours.

Woodchat Shrike

A Zitting Cisticola was only our second species of this difficult tribe and a party of Green Wood Hoopoes flopped across the field we were walking. A brief time back on the bus and then off again as a Black Scimitrebill flapped alongside like a smaller Wood Hoopoe with similar white wing bars flashing but it soon headed off and could not be refound.

Green Wood Hoopoe

However, there were always other things to look at including a phyllosc-like Senegal Eremomola, Grey and Fine Spotted Woodpeckers, Northern Crombec, Greater Honeyguide, Beautiful and Pygmy Sunbirds and the still invisible Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird.

Fine Spotted Woodpecker

Fine Spotted Woodpecker - pesky trunk

A cultivated ex-peanut field had several Rufous Backed Sparrow Larks and a family party of Bush Petronias and Shikra and Harrier Hawks joined the swirling masses of Hooded Vultures and Kites.

Striped Kingfishers was heard singing and the guides expertly homed in on one as he sat demurely in a tree edge. A fat headed, big billed Kingfisher and our fifth species so far.

Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters occupied the same perch type as the kingfisher by flew up to catch their prey rather than down.

Striped Kingfishers

Swallow-tailed Bee-eater

Tinkerbirds were still eluding us but at last one of the little buggers gave itself up as it ‘tinked’ from a treetop looking like a mini Barbet.  The same trees were just beginning to open their flowers on otherwise naked boughs looking tulip-like when closed and like a magnolia when open. Bulbuls and Sunbirds were coming into collect nectar and amongst the latter were a pair of Scarlet Chested. 

Scarlet Chested Sunbird

... and a lizard up the same tree

Another Eremomola gleaned leaves but I was still having trouble with the name for some reason and they inadvertently became known thereafter as Hairy Mammas for which I profusely apologise.  Black-crowned Tchagras sang but remained firmly hidden and it took nearly ten minutes to locate a singing Brown Rumped Bunting (which of course is largely yellow) as it sat just in the edge of its chosen bush just like annoying Cirl Buntings do.

Brown Rumped Bunting

Another flash of citrine and I called White-eye but I was wrong, it was an even smaller Yellow Penduline Tit and we spent a few minutes watching two of these little birds working their way through the dead herbaceous lower levels.  Apparently it is unusual to get such good views of this species. 

There were very few insects but I did discover a full flying adult Praying Mantis which was cool but it kept running around the back of trunks and staring at me so no photos were gained. I understood its desire to hide as we found another Striped Kingfisher perched up in the next tree.

Striped Kingfisher - much closer views

One last bundle off the bus before we headed back to the camp for lunch, as a group of hirundines had looked interesting as we bumped along.  Red-chested Swallows were joined by a couple of House Martins and two large red rump types with richly coloured underparts and pale underwings and thus Rufous-chested Swallow was added.  Up above them a Wahlberg’s Eagle drifted one way and an intermediate plumaged Booted Eagle the other and a Brown Snake Eagle flew low over our heads catching us unawares.

Wahlberg’s Eagle

Booted Eagle very high up!

Brown Snake Eagle

Chicken and chip lunch at Tendaba with a smart adult Black Kite amongst the Yellow-billeds on the beach and then a gap that was meant to be a siesta till 3pm.  

Tide out

Pink-backed Pelican

Black Kite

Black Kite

Yellow-billed Kite

Mmm... it may have been very hot but I could not quite bring myself to shut down for a few hours while it was still daylight so I picked up my water and hat and reapplied my suntan stuff and made my way back along the beach and then off on a raised dirt track that cut through the largely dry rice paddies towards a wooded ridge.

I saw this a test time... the opportunity to see if what I had learnt so far had sunk in at all with no one to ask for help or confirmation.  Greater BEGS and Long-tails were attacking fruit in the large trees and really do sound like parrots! Flocks of Village Weavers foraged in the paddies with a few Village Indigobirds amongst them which included at least two beautiful matt blue males.  

Long-tailed Glossy Starling
Village Indigobird

I surprised two Coucals from a paddy too as they crashed out into a bare patch, saw me and ran back in again before plucking up the courage to make a dash for the bushes where a Grey Hornbill and Aby Roller were both resting out of the sun.

Senegal Coucal

Grey Hornbill

The margins of the mangroves held Greenshank, Spur-winged Lapwings and Squaccos and a Green Sandpiper erupted from the edge in a typically over exuberant manner. 


Spur-winged Lapwing and Vinaceous Dove



I spied a thermal of White Pelicans in the distance and up above them was another of those ‘know it when you see it’ birds. It was a Bateleur gliding on unmoving dihedral wings like a fixed kite on a string. I was properly excited apart from the nagging bit about not being able to really mention it when I got back. Later on Paul was able to sex it as a female due to the largely white underwings.

White Pelicans

female Bateleur - simply wow...

A flock of White Storks and a single Woolly-necked were also up over the same area and a glance behind me saw another very big BOP heading for the tree line. It looked white headed and I could also see white on the back and tail but for the life of me, my fried head could not come up with the obvious answer that it was an adult African Fish Eagle.  I took one hazy shot and it was gone and by this time I was being distracted by Vervet Monkeys, a rather portly Western Ground Squirrel and a singing Northern Crombec.

And if you thought the Bateleur shot was poor... African Fish Eagle

Wood Hoopoes were investigating a bole high in a tree and Ring-necked Parakeets were singing in the canopy.  Feeling quite pleased with my self guided walk I started to head back encountering Red-billed Hornbills and a very obliging Bearded Barbet on my way.

Green Wood Hoopoe

Bearded Barbet

Bearded Barbet

Love this Fiddler Crab with his fake eyes under heavy eyelids

The local goats must have heard us talking about siestas as even they had found some shelter in some shaded goat shaped holes in a rock face!

Yellow-headed Agama

Our late afternoon was spent in the scrubland up above the camp and village at a man made drinking pool complete with a hide of sorts. I am not sure how long we stayed in there but the views of the birds attending were superb with Yellow-fronted Canaries, White-rumped Seedeaters, Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu, Cut-throats, Black-rumped and Lavender Waxbills coming down to drink amongst the mass of Honey Bees with Bulbuls, Grey Headed Sparrows and smart Bush Petronias for company. 

Yellow-fronted Canary, Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu & Lavender Waxbills

Black-rumped Waxbill

Six birds, five species




Black-rumped Waxbill & Yellow-fronted Canary

White-rumped Seedeater

Yellow-fronted Canary, Bush Petronia & Grey Headed Sparrow

Yellow-fronted Canary

Bush Petronia

Bush Petronia

Bush Petronias in a bush

Bush Petronias & Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu

Grey Headed Sparrow

Black-billed Wood, Vinaceous, Laughing and Namaqua Doves all appeared along with gaudy Greater BEGS, boggle eyed Purples and our best look at an orange eyed Bronze-tailed.

Black-billed Wood Dove

Laughing Dove

Namaqua Dove

Vinaceous Dove

Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling

Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling

Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling

Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling

Purple Glossy Starling

Greater Blue-eared & Purple Glossy Starling

Greater Blue-eared & Purple Glossy Starling

Bronze-tailed Glossy Starling

Two small Weavers dropped in and subsequent investigation since getting home has suggested that they were young Vitelline Masked Weavers – a species whose nests we had seen not far from the hide.

Vitelline Masked Weavers

...and their amazing nest

A Bishop was also in attendance and was similarly an after trip research bird. It was chunkier, much duller and appeared heavier headed that the Northern Reds we had seen just a short while before with a bigger, heftier bill.  It also appeared to have some yellow above the eye at the front of the supercillium. These are as tricky as those pesky Weavers but the thinking is leaning towards a Yellow-crowned Bishop.  I am happy for anyone to input on this please!

Yellow-crowned Bishop? and Bush Petronia

Yellow-crowned Bishop?

There is only so much sitting in a hide you can do and so a final amble a bit further into the scrub was just what was needed. Both parrots were vocal and another Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird obliged as it foraged insects in a bare tree. 

Ring-necked Parakeet

Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird

More canopy movement and a pair of Brubru were discovered looking a little like slightly odd, horizontal, short tailed Masked Shrikes. This was another of the intriguing bird names that I wanted to connect to the real thing.


We slowly walked back down through fields illuminated golden by the low setting sun before descending through the village where rice was being sifted and fish gutted outdoors in preparation for family dinners.

Beers were acquired and the log undertaken but not before six Spur-winged Geese headed low past our view and off up the river adding one final new species to the ever growing tally.

And the tide now in at sundown...